In the American Pickers season 23 episode “Picture Perfect Pick,” siblings Picker Mike and businessman Robbie Wolfe travel to California to meet up with a collector named Wayne Warren. You’ll be immediately struck by his incredible phonograph collection, which includes many notable pieces, including a phonograph record of famed inventor Thomas Edison’s voice recording. Some pieces are only a few hundred dollars, others are worth a few thousand, but regardless of monetary value, these are still remarkable pieces of media history. Because before the invention of the phonograph, recording and listening was nothing more than a fantasy.
As early as the 1870s, music and voice recordings were unheard of because the technology simply didn’t exist. Thanks to Edison’s phonograph, it became possible to hear voice recordings, music and more at the touch of a button. However, as Smithsonian Magazine noted, it also transformed the way people consumed and created auditory media. The songs became much shorter due to the limitations of the technology, and other instruments took precedence due to the abysmal quality of the recorded sound. It was neither perfect nor easy, but it did set the stage for cassettes, CDs, and all other forms of personal audio recording and playback that would come after.
It’s not uncommon for “American Pickers” to uncover seminal pieces of cultural history, but the show’s coverage of the phonograph is arguably one of its most intriguing to date.